Rizo-López Foods is voluntarily recalling its dairy products, some of which are popular Super Bowl snacks, after an outbreak of listeria that is linked to two deaths.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that two deaths have been reported linked to an outbreak strain of listeria, one from California and one from Texas.
The CDC investigated a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections in 2017 and 2021 and found epidemiologic evidence in these previous investigations that queso fresco and other similar cheeses were a potential source of the outbreak, but did not have enough evidence to name a specific brand.
The recall came about after the investigation was reopened in January due to new illnesses being reported in December 2023, and the outbreak strain was found in a cheese sample from Rizo-López Foods.
Epidemiology and recent laboratory data showed that queso fresco and cojita made by this company were making people sick in this outbreak.
A total of 26 known people have been infected with the outbreak strain, with the reports coming in from 11 different states between June 2014 and December 2023. Out of the 26, 23 people were hospitalised.
There are also two newborns in the case count, as listeria can be passed to newborns during pregnancy.
The true number of people who have gotten sick in the outbreak is likely to be higher than the number reported, and may not be limited to the current known states, the CDC said.
Rizo-López Foods said they are recalling their products as “they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes”.
The recalled cheese, yoghurt and sour cream products were sold under brand names such as Tio Francisco, Don Francisco, Rizo Bros, Rio Grande, Food City, El Huache, La Ordena, San Carlos, Campesino, Santa Maria, Dos Ranchitos, Casa Cardenas, and 365 Whole Foods Market.
The products were distributed by Rizo-López Foods and through distributors and sold at, but not limited to, El Super, Cardenas Market, Northgate Gonzalez, Superior Groceries, El Rancho, Vallarta, Food City, La Michoacana, and Numero Uno Markets.
A full list of the products, sizes, UPCs and sell-by dates can be found on the FDA website.
The company advised people to check their refrigerators and freezers for the products and dispose of them.
The CDC has also recommended that people should not eat any of the recalled products and throw them away or return them to where they bought them.
They added to clean any refrigerators, containers or surfaces that the recalled products may have touched, as listeria can survive in the refrigerator and spread to other foods or surfaces. Restaurants and retailers should do the same, the FDA said.
If you have symptoms after eating the recalled products, the CDC said to call a health provider immediately.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems, according to the company’s press release.
Symptoms will usually appear within two weeks after eating foods contaminated with listeria and include fever, flu-like symptoms like muscle ache and fatigue, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and seizures, the CDC said.
Infections from listeria also have the potential to cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women.
The health authority estimates that listeriais the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.
In a statement to The Independent, Edwin Rizo, the CEO and owner of Rizo-López Foods Inc said that he started his family-owned company back in 1990 and has since become a nationwide supplier, with a reputation of “producing safe, high-quality dairy products for our consumers, including our own friends and family”.
“This is the first time any product that we manufacture has been linked to a foodborne illness. As soon as we were aware of this, we made the immediate decision to stop production and voluntarily recall all our products manufactured in our facility,” Mr Rizo said.
“We are working hard and diligently to find the root cause of the problem and take corrective actions to prevent it from happening again. The health and well-being of our customers is our top priority. We have always aimed to provide the highest quality products and are committed to doing the right thing to protect the health of our consumers.”